One of my favorite things to do with the guitar is to take stuff I already know and find new and interesting applications for it. Some call that “lazy,” I prefer to view it as “brilliantly efficient.” An awesome teacher of mine—the great Lyle Workman— once told me, “Don’t ever be afraid to ask yourself, ‘What happens if I just move this shape here?’” It’s great advice. We are blessed as guitarists because we can slide intervals and chords around with impunity and get cool-sounding new chords. (If you don’t believe me, try going from a Cmaj to a C#maj chord on the piano.) This lesson is about taking some stock shapes—and some not-so-stock shapes—and moving them to get all new sounds, making the simple sound complex while making the complex simple.
We all know the E major cowboy chord. Many of us know that if you take that E and move it up two frets while leaving the top two strings open, you get Alex Lifeson’s riff to “Xanadu.” The “Xanadu” chord is shown in Fig. 1, an F#7add4. Lifeson slides that exact shape to the seventh and fifth positions for gorgeous Badd4 and Aadd9 voicings in that same tune. (Bonus: Those last two voicings will also get you Randy Rhoads’ “You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll” and Alice in Chains’ “No Excuses.”) Let’s not stop there. By moving this same shape to the tenth and eighth positions, we can play the beautiful lines in Ex. 1. The close intervals give the cross-picked pattern a neat, scalar vibe. Try this the next time you encounter a boring D-C riff.
Moving on to the Fmaj7 chord in Fig. 2. You can slide this four-string shape to almost any fret (2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10 for sure) and get a sweet voicing. Ex. 2 uses the eighth and sixth positions for a ringy, arpeggio-worthy progression. Wrap your thumb around the neck to add the bass notes if you like. That Bb#11 chord is particularly evocative.
It doesn’t get any more basic than the C chord in Fig. 3, but that shape can still generate great sounds. Move it up to the tenth position, start picking, and move down. That final chord could be called lots of names, but the most important thing is how it sounds and how it makes you feel.
Fig. 4a isn’t a “normal” grip, but it is a super-rich voicing à la Pink Floyd’s “Hey You.” Fig. 4b is easier to grip, but still has all the important notes. Use that to start Ex. 4 and then slide it up two frets for the glorious Amaj7.
A similar sound can be heard in Fig. 5. We once again get the clangy minor second between the G and B strings, but with a fretted note on the high E this time. Ex. 5 takes this shape from the first position with an open A in the bass all the way up to the eighth position (with an open D in the bass) for a killer Dadd4 sound. We recast the first voicing by changing the bass notes to end the phrase, and those exact same high strings work beautifully each time. I play those G and F bass notes with my thumb, but sound them any way you can, or have a bass player play them.
These voicings will liven up any progression that calls for ordinary chords. This lesson will also hopefully spur you on to slide chord shapes around and combine them with open strings “just to see what will happen.” Quite often, something cool happens.